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Preview: Grammy winners Mariachi Los Camperos join forces with Oklahoma City Philharmonic for weekend concerts

The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]
The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

A version of this story appears in the Friday Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Cultural connections: Grammy-winning group Mariachi Los Camperos partnering with OKC Philharmonic for Pops performances

When Sergio Alonso and his bandmates in Mariachi Los Camperos typically take the stage, they number a dozen players, the standard mariachi lineup of his harp, six violins, two trumpets, a guitarron bass instrument, a vihuela rhythm guitar and a guitar.

When the venerable Los Angeles-based ensemble takes the stage Friday and Saturday night at the Civic Center Music Hall, they will be joined by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic with about six times as many classically-trained musicians.


"Over the years, we've had the opportunity to present this music with orchestra, and it's outstanding. It's just a different kind of beauty, a different kind of power. We're delighted any time we can present mariachi with orchestra to new audiences. It's always a beautiful experience for us," said Alonso, who has been the group's harpist for 23 years.

"You are sharing the stage with outstanding musicians, very well-trained musicians, and you're also operating in a world that's very different than a lot of the performance context where mariachis exists. ... History has stated that the mariachis went from playing in bars and more of settings that weren't attributed to high-art music, so now that you have musicians that can perform well and be able to read music and execute music and be on stage, deservedly so , with orchestral musicians, it's a responsibility.

"But in an ensemble like Mariachi Los Camperos, I think that's exactly where the group needs to be, to demonstrate that mariachi music transcends cultures, it transcends performance contexts. And, again, it's just fantastic that we can be a part of it."

Music Director Alexander Mickelthwate said he is eager to share the stage with Mariachi Los Camperos as he conducts the latest concerts on the OKC Philharmonic's 2019-2020 Pops series.

"They're extremely high-polished, first of all, and amazingly in sync. Then to do this together with the philharmonic will be a real treat, I think," he said. "I want to connect a little bit more with the Latino and Hispanic community in Oklahoma."

The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]
The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

Esteemed history

Considered a visionary who took mariachi performances out of cantinas and into concert halls, Natividad “Nati” Cano founded Mariachi Los Camperos in 1961, and three years later, his group became the first mariachi ensemble to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

The band collaborated with Linda Ronstadt on her 1987 landmark album “Canciones de Mi Padre” and the 1992 sequel, “Mas Canciones" and toured with the singer nationwide. Mariachi Los Camperos has recorded and performed with many other recording artists, including Pedro Fernandez, Pepe Aguilar, Angeles Ochoa, Eugenia Leon, Lila Downs, Alejandro Fernandez and Luis Miguel.


"Nati Cano really set the stage in terms of raising mariachi music to a higher art form. He definitely was innovative within the parameters of tradition ... integrating, for example, the woman into the mariachi, which he was the first to do on a professional scale. Also, the mariachi dinner show context, when he opened up his La Fonda restaurant in Los Angeles, was another innovation," said Alonso of Cano, who died in 2014.

"He was an advocate in education by implementing the mariachi class at the department of ethnomusicology at UCLA and by Los Camperos providing workshops across the United States."

Since 1992, the ensemble has been under the direction of Jesus "Chuy" Guzman, who has worked to build on Cano's legacy.  

"I remember being a kid in college and going to see Mariachi Los Camperos and just being like 'Wow.' Just the way they carry themselves on stage, it's just very different than you might see in a different context. So, that educational aspect, it's something that is within our performances," said Alonso, who also is chairman of the music department at San Fernando High School in his native California.

"It's presenting the music to different audiences, different contexts, and one of which, of course, is the performing arts center, the concert halls, integrating traditional Mexican music with Western art music and really serving almost as a microcosm, as it were, to how music exists throughout the country, throughout the world now. You have fusions of different cultures, and in a diverse place like the United States is, you would think you would find these collaborations."

The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]
The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

Cross-cultural connections

Alonso anticipates he and his bandmates will still be in "celebratory mode" this weekend, as their two-night Oklahoma City stand are their first shows since the ensemble won a Grammy Award last month for Best Regional Mexican Music Album with "De Ayer Para Siempre." It was the third Grammy win for Mariachi Los Camperos.

"Winning a Grammy in and of itself is fantastic. I think the implications for Mexican music, it's greater being that we are a mariachi ensemble. In Mexico now there are a lot of popular musics that have really kind of overshadowed mariachi music for years, music such as banda music or musica nortena or popular music, even conjunto or Tex-Mex music. And they're all part of the same category ... so we go in there with no expectations of winning the Grammy. But then of course, when they call our name, it's pretty humbling to not only represent this institution since, oh gosh, 1961 but also represent mariachi music as a whole," Alonso said.

"It's also been not only educating people from a different culture, from a different country, but even educating people from Mexico who have these stigmas on mariachi music and these preconditioned views on what mariachi music is compared to other music. ... A lot of the innovations and transformations of mariachi music, interestingly, have emerged in the United States among Mexican, Mexican-American, non-Mexican musicians."


For Mickelthwate, who hails from Germany, it has been interesting delving into the connections between mariachi music and his homeland. In the 19th century, Maximilian I, younger brother of the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I, was monarch of Mexico.

"He brought to Mexico polka bands ... that then created this whole breeding ground for creativity and that's now what we have and what we call here mariachi music. But there's a total connection to Germany," he said. "It's really interesting that mariachi is so utterly Mexican, but there's this whole connection when I'm listening to it. There are many similarities to Southern German music, to polka bands, to yodeling."

For Alonso, teaming with orchestras gives Mariachi Los Camperos a chance to subvert stereotypes and foster cross-cultural understanding.

"In the United States, I know these are definitely difficult times for a lot of different communities, and what better way than art, what better way than music to really bring about that understanding, that communication, via something so human as music.

"That is in line, again, with the ideology that Nati Cano left us with ... that we really be all-welcoming for people to experience our music - not only the Mexican, not only the Mexican-Americans or even Latinos, but everyone to experience mariachi music."

The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]
The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

IN CONCERT

Mariachi Los Camperos with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.

Tickets and information: 842-5387 or www.okcphil.org.

-BAM








Related Photos
The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

The Grammy-winning ensemble Mariachi Los Camperos will perform Feb. 21-22 with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. [Photo provided]

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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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